CRISFIELD — While many Maryland Republicans were on the shores of Lake Erie about to cap the end of their quadrennial convention, Gov. Larry Hogan went to a different shore, eschewing national politics and the questions about his party’s presidential nominee that have dogged him for months.
Hogan’s trip to the J. Millard Tawes Crab and Clam Bake wasn’t a surprise. He had announced more than a month ago that he would neither vote for Donald Trump nor would he, as the head of the state’s Republicans, go to Cleveland for the Republican National Convention.
The trip to one of the state’s premier annual political events was the first for Hogan as governor.
“I try to come here every year and spend time with people listening to their concerns,” Hogan said. “The first time I missed it in decades was last year when I was in the hospital fighting (cancer).”
The event is named for J. Millard Tawes, who served as Maryland’s 54th governor from 1959 to 1967. Originally, it started as a fundraiser for the Crisfield Democrat but is now run by the Crisfield Chamber of Commerce. During the four-hour event about 4,000 people dined on more than 200 bushels of steamed crabs, as well as steamed, raw and fried clams, and corn.
“It’s a great opportunity to get together and lay down the partisan swords for the day,” said Comptroller Peter Franchot.
At least 800 of those partisans — including some of the biggest names in Maryland politics — gathered under a tent of almost circus proportions hosted by Annapolis power lobbyist Bruce Bereano.
Guests at the tent included Hogan and Franchot as well as a number of state legislators and the governor’s own Cabinet secretaries.
Bereano made no secret of his support of Hogan, with a large sign that welcomed the governor towering over the entrance to his tent that he calls “Bereano’s Corner.”
“I’m kind of a suck up,” Bereano said of the sign and his support of Hogan.
But there’s a limit. Bereano said the large dining area is a strictly no-politicking zone. At one point he chastised a supporter of Kathy Szeliga, the Republican candidate for U.S. Senate, after the volunteer was seen placing fans on tables in the dining area.
Despite many in his party gathering more than 500 miles away, Hogan said it was more important to press the flesh and crack crabs.
“I was elected as the governor of Maryland by all the people of Maryland. Republicans were 26 percent of the vote,” Hogan said. “It’s not just Republicans I represent, that’s for sure. My job is to work hard here in Maryland. There’s no obligation whatsoever for me to go play politics in Cleveland.”
But Hogan’s presence in Crisfield, an economically challenged area of the shore, highlights the divide between both the governor and Trump, the Republican nominee, and some of his Republican supporters.
Hogan has drawn a clear line between himself and the bombastic presidential candidate and real estate mogul. Some Republicans have expressed views that Hogan has an obligation to support the party nominee. But if they were in Crisfield, they were not vocal.
“It’s more important for him to be here in Maryland than to be 500 miles away,” said Del. Carl Anderton, R-Eastern Shore. “Just to stand on the floor of the convention, there’s no value to it. If he were going to be a speaker, that would be different.”
Franchot, the state’s Democratic tax collector, agreed. He praised Hogan for not going to Cleveland and said the “state of national politics is pretty disgusting right now.”
“I think it’s fabulous,” said Franchot. “It’s a feather in his cap that he’s sidestepping all that ridiculous stuff that’s going on.”